Tag Archives: author

Guest Post: Paul Bassett Davies on How to be a Writer.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I recently readDead Writers in Rehab‘ by Paul Bassett Davies – and loved every second of it! 

In his own inimitable style, Paul is here today to share some “tips” on how to be a writer. 

Caution: this man writes comedy – take his advice lightly. 
If you appreciate the sentiment behind these brilliant suggestions, more writing advice will be coming soon in a series of podcasts. Details will be appearing on his blog

Vic x

How to be a Writer.
part one: Getting Started.

So, you want to be a writer? Great! Wait until you’re sober, then read the following essential guide to what you will need.

Somewhere to write.
Try to find a large, quiet space with natural light and a nice view. If you do, sell it immediately. Forget writing, and go into property. Make some real money. Otherwise, settle  for somewhere reasonably quiet, comfortable and clean. So, obviously not your place. Maybe a friend with a nice house has a spare room you can use. Which would be a mistake. Having friends is a sign you may not be a serious writer. Don’t worry, you’ll soon lose them. Meanwhile, try at least to position your desk near a window. But don’t look out of the window in the morning, or you’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon.

 

Something to write with.
Use whatever you’re comfortable with: a pencil, a typewriter, a computer, or perhaps an expensive fountain pen you bought because you were convinced it would somehow make your writing more stylish and sophisticated. And sure enough, you were wrong. But everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. Myself, I need to have seven freshly sharpened pencils beside me when I begin work each day. I don’t write in pencil – I use a computer like everyone else, but I need to have exactly seven freshly-sharpened HB pencils beside me, no more, no less. Some people might say this seems obsessive. These are undoubtedly the same people who say I’m paranoid and vindictive. But I know who they are, and where they live, and I know what their deepest fears are.

Someone to help.
It’s said that one famous author employed a butler whose job was to leave the house before the author woke up, taking all his trousers with him. This cut down the author’s scope for displacement activities like “popping out to buy some milk” for several hours. If you can’t afford a butler, throw your trousers out of the window yourself. If you haven’t got the willpower to do that, most writers find it takes very little to provoke a spouse or partner to throw all their clothes out of the house. All you have to do is say something like, “Hello darling, how was your day? I’m exhausted, because creative thinking is much harder work than your teaching job, even when I do it lying here on the couch all day.” That should do the trick. If you can’t afford a window, hide your trousers and get drunk, so you don’t remember where they are in the morning. If you can’t afford trousers, congratulations; you’re already on the way to becoming a truly committed writer.

Time.
Writing is a full time job, even when you’re not doing it. Much of your most valuable work is done when it looks as if you’re just taking a nap, or lying in a bath. But it’s important to be disciplined, otherwise those precious hours can just slip away. So, organise your day, and waste time according to a strict schedule.

Money.
All writers deserve to have an independent income. Many writers have incomes that are so fiercely independent they never see them.

Coffee.
Plenty of coffee. Especially in the morning. Personally, I like my coffee the way I like an amusing analogy I’ll be able to come up with when I’ve had some coffee.

Something to write.
This is covered in part two, How to Have an Idea, including the advanced modules: How to Have the Same Idea Again, and How to Have Someone Else’s Idea.

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*Fox Hunter Blog Tour* Guest Post: Zoë Sharp on Keeping a Series Fresh.

2017 Book Tour Blog.pdfWhen I first joined Twitter in 2011, one of the first people I interacted with was Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series.

Since then, Zoë and I have met at several events – including her reading at a few of the Noir at the Bars I’ve presented. Zoë’s prose is like her love of fast cars and motorbikes – fast-paced – and she always gets a great reaction from the audience when she reads her work. Having been privy to an advance copy of Zoë’s latest novelFox Hunter, I can understand why. 

Zoë is a joy to be around and I’m delighted to have her on the blog today to talk about how to keep a series fresh – and she would know having written twelve novels in the Charlie Fox series.

When she’s not chipping away at the word-face of another book, Zoë can usually be found international pet-sitting or renovating houses so I’m very humbled that she found time to write this brilliant post.

Vic x

Photo by Nick Lockett

KEEPING A SERIES FRESH
By Zoë Sharp

One of the hardest things when you write a long-running series is keeping it fresh. Not only for the reader, but for the author as well. I think that’s one of the reasons I never really gave Charlie Fox a regular job in law enforcement. So, she doesn’t get summoned from her bed to go and inspect the body at the latest crime scene—in fact, she’s more likely to be asked to prevent there being a body in the first place.

This constant search for a new challenge for Charlie is why her career has evolved throughout the series, and is still doing so. When we pick her up in the early books she is a self-defence instructor, someone who’s been a victim of violent attack herself and is now determined to teach others to look after themselves.

I know some people build hugely successful series around such an amateur sleuth, but I knew from the start I was going to take her in the direction of personal protection in a more professional guise, even if she wasn’t sure.

When she agreed to go undercover into a bodyguard training school in the third book, Hard Knocks, she didn’t fully appreciate that she was going to follow that path, first working for her former army mentor, Sean Meyer, in the UK, and then moving with him when he became a partner in Parker Armstrong’s prestigious agency in New York City.

Now, as the latest book, Fox Hunter, closes, the future is looking a lot more uncertain for Charlie, and I have some choices about where she goes next. I’d already laid in some strands for her future in previous stories. If I know something like this is going to come up, I try not to make it unbelievable when it does. Inevitably, she’s met some interesting people along the way—some of whom may want to kill her, and some of whom owe her their lives. It’s not unreasonable that their paths may cross again occasionally. After all, she’s been moving in a small and exclusive world.

Charlie has changed quite a bit as a character as the series has progressed. Keeping her static and unchanging would have been difficult as she faced different challenges with every book, and her personal and emotional life swirled around her.

In particular, exploring her capacity for violence has always been fascinating for me. She’s very familiar with it in all its forms, and can be utterly ruthless when the occasion demands, but she’s not without conscience. If you threaten her—or someone she cares about, or feels responsible for—she’ll kill you without a second thought. But she’ll go a long way to avoid a confrontation if she can.

That much hasn’t changed about Charlie. Right from the first book, Killer Instinct, where she plays the clown to side-step proving her self-defence abilities to an aggressive club doorman (thereby proving them by another means) up to Fox Hunter, her twelfth outing, where she gives someone who tries to forcibly detain her two chances to step aside before she takes him apart.

Perhaps because she is ever-changing, I try hard not to repeat myself, either in storyline or action sequence, or in her interaction with the recurring characters. Madeleine Rimmington, whom Charlie dislikes on first meeting in book two, Riot Act, is slowly becoming a friend.

And as she enters the next phase of her life, Charlie may find she needs all the friends she can get…

*Shadows Cover Reveal*

Shadows will be published on the 14th of October by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd.

When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape.  There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing.

For Donna, these events become personal, and add to the feeling that she’s being watched, she is convinced that Jonas Evanton  has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall.  Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction.  Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.

Moving from Dundee to the south coast of Turkey and the Syrian border, this is a fast-paced novel about those who live their lives in the shadows and those who would exploit them.

“Not for the first time, Donna found herself wondering how the hell she had ended up  in a situation like this.”

Jackie McLean lives in Glasgow with her partner Allison. Jackie has a varied background, including being a government economist, a political lobbyist, and running a pet shop. She is in and out of prison a lot (in her current job with social work services).

Toxic is her first crime novel, introducing DI Donna Davenport, and was shortlisted in the Yeovil Literary Prize before publication by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd. The sequel, Shadows, is about to be published, and she has begun work on the third book in the DI Davenport series (Run). Jackie runs Get Writing Glasgow, which is a kind of Weight Watchers for writers, hosted by Waterstones at Braehead.

You can find Jackie on Facebook and Twitter.

In the Scottish university city of Dundee, life and all its complications are the same as usual. The recklessly brilliant DI Donna Davenport, struggling to hide a secret from police colleagues as she tries to get over the break-up with her partner, is in trouble with her boss for a fiery and inappropriate outburst to the press.

DI Evanton, an old-fashioned, hard-living misogynistic copper has been newly demoted for thumping a suspect, and transferred to Dundee with a final warning ringing in his ears, carrying a reputation that precedes him.

And in the peaceful, rolling Tayside farmland a deadly store of MIC, the toxin that devastated Bhopal, is being illegally stored by a criminal gang smuggling the valuable substance necessary for making cheap pesticides. An anonymous tip-off starts a desperate search for the MIC that is complicated by the uneasy partnership between Davenport and Evanton and their growing mistrust of each other’s actions.

Compelling and authentic, Toxic is a tense and fast paced crime thriller.

Review: ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Imagine you are feted author with the world at your feet. You have a startlingly successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home. You go to teach on a week-long residential writing course in Northumberland and meet a talented but troubled young woman. The chemistry between you is instant and you embark on an all-consuming affair like the ones you write about: or do you?

Exquisite is a breathless and claustrophobic read which captivates you until the final page. I literally could not put it down. It’s been a long time since I read a psychological thriller as good as this. I could see the action unfolding in my mind and already have a clear picture of who would play these characters in a TV or film adaptation.

The way in which Sarah Stovell has crafted this book requires a tremendous amount of skill. The narrative completely reflects the obsessive and confusing nature of the relationship between Bo Luxton and Alice Dark. Exquisite is layered  to perfection and ensures that your sympathies never lie with one person for very long. Sadly, it’s terrifyingly believable.

A must-read.

Vic x

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Shelley Day

My very good friend Shelley Day has had a rather special 2016 and she’s taken the time to share her memories with us. Thanks Shelley – here’s to many more wonderful years!

Vic x 

book-launch

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Well that’s easy peasy; my debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ was published in July, launched on 7th at Waterstones in Edinburgh and then on 14th in Newcastle. I was dead nervous no-one would come, really worried. I’d made the mistake of googling stuff about book launches and came  across an alarming number (mostly in USA) when hardly anyone – in some cases, no-one! – had shown up. In the event, though, tons of people came, including mates from far away I hadn’t seen in donkey’s years, and loads of books were sold and signed and we went on after to the pub round the corner and the celebrations continued …so yeah, that’s my favourite 2016 professional memory! For someone who’s always had a hankering to write a novel, it was a dream come true!

stella-moon

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’ve had so many good moments – ALL Stella-related this year. I haven’t done much other than Stella! So, many good things, it’s hard to pick … I was lucky enough to get a Spotlight slot at Bloody Scotland. In itself, bloody brilliant. But with Val McDermid? Yep. That Val McDermid. And didn’t I nearly fall off the stage when she interrupted to say she’d read my book, and was recommending it, ‘it’s full of dark suspense…’ … AND as if that wasn’t enough to set up a whole life-time of WOOPING … Didn’t Ali Smith – yes, that Ali Smith – didn’t she come up to me at her event in Topping’s, St Andrews in November and say, ‘I loved your book.’ Yep. That happened. I said ‘OMG, have you read it?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely. And I loved it.’  So who needs dreams when these things happen in real life? Eh?

bloody-scotland

Favourite book in 2016?
Favourite book this year has to be Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn.’ It’s very hard to pick ‘cause I’ve got mates who’ve done some really brilliant books this year – Graeme Macrae Burnet’s ‘His Bloody Project‘, for example, that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Martin MacInnes’s unusual and compelling ‘Infinite Ground‘, a remarkable debut. I’ve loved those. And Mary Paulson-Ellis’s ‘The Other Mrs Walker‘. To name but three. But I’ve plumped for Ali Smith. She read from the MS at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August – she had only that week submitted it to the publisher – and the whole place, hundreds of people: enthralled. I love all Ali Smith’s work and this one is as stunning as the rest. It’s also very poignant. Timely. Contempraneous she calls it.

I don’t know, autumn, the whole idea of it seems especially significant this year, maybe because I’m 63 now, well into my own Autumn; maybe because of Brexit and the disastrous election in America; maybe because we’ve lost so many good people in 2016 – Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen. Ali Smith talks about the seasons and the cycles of everything, and the new sap rising, and the old making way for the new … I love her optimism and the joyousness of her words and her celebrations of the inclusiveness and diversity of the Scottish traditions. But, I dunno, I feel fear at the moment, I feel us on the cusp of even more difficult times. I do hope the new that comes out of the present turmoils of the world will be something good … There are so many divisions, so many exclusions, so many gross inequalities, so many vested interests; so much healing to be done.

Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake.’ Has to be. As Ken Loach says, “if you’re not angry, what kind of person are you?” And Newcastle’s in my bones.

 Favourite song of the year?
I have an old favourite that I need to fish out from time to time and I’ve fished it out a lot this year because, although as you have seen I have had some very good moments this year, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Having a novel published is a strange thing, and I’ve had to do quite a bit to keep on top of it all, and to remind myself that it’s ok, and I’m ok … So, my song of the year is Ben Harper’s ‘Fight Outta You,’ given to me by my son years ago when I was going through a hard time. It’s a good song. It’s encouraging. Play it if you get discouraged about anything.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Oh yes. There are always obstacles, aren’t there? As I said, getting my debut novel published is a dream, but it brings what are now commonly referred to as challenges – getting your book out there, trying to get it noticed, worrying in case it just sinks without trace … Oh yes. All that goes through a new author’s head. I don’t think I’m alone. Even authors with the mega-machines of big publishing houses behind them are secretly worrying what if ..
You feel so alone, blundering in the dark, not knowing what or why or when … That’s something every debut author goes through, it’s very difficult, and it’s fingers crossed you come through it and out the other end relatively unscathed. There’s a continual struggle against invisibility … and self-promotion is often so alien to a solitary writer’s nature, it can feel really terrible!
The irony, of course, is that while you’re worrying your socks off, your book’s out there getting lots of praise and great reviews and you’re getting invited to do gigs and be on panels … Then the major challenge is to marry all that up with the terrible alone-ness that you feel inside. If you’re a new author reading this, you’ll know what I mean. Don’t dwell on it. You’ll survive. You’ll live to tell the tale.

But yes, getting support from wherever and whoever you can is absolutely essential. One way to gather support is to get yourself out there. I’ve been lucky. I was already an experienced public speaker, so didn’t have the anxiety of that like some people do. And the likes of Waterstones, Edinburgh and Wordery (online) and Edinburgh City of Literature, and Scottish Book Trust, and New Writing North, they’ve been right behind me and having that kind of support makes a massive difference. And yes, slots at book festivals are very difficult to get, you apply and mostly you don’t even get an answer. But hey, some of them do reply, and some do offer you a slot, and a few of them welcome you with open arms and are really glad to have you. It’s hard not to be daunted – cowed even – by silences and rejections. But you learn to ride those waves and keep looking ahead.

You hesitate to talk about these difficult things in public, in case people think you ungrateful, and you’re s’posed to talk things up and talk yourself up … But, seriously, I’d be misrepresenting my experience as a debut author if I told you it was fab fab fab all the way.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I always make resolutions and I never keep them, any of them, they’ve always all bitten the dust by the 2nd January. But yeah, I’ll make them again, like I always do, I’ll have a shot at being virtuous. Then I’ll revert to my usual cranky self.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I want to get on with my writing. I’ve given Stella the best I can for 6 months, and now I’m moving on. I’m writing a sequel, aiming to finish the first draft by the end of March, before I start on the Read Regional Events with New Writing North in April. I’m hugely looking forward to those because I love libraries and I love meeting readers! I’ve just done some for Book Week Scotland, and they’re great, people who love your book and who are so interested to find out more about it and about you. I’m looking forward to my favourite book festivals … Newcastle Noir in April, that’s always brilliant. And Bloody Scotland, and Wigtown and Berwick and Portobello. I had slots at all those this year and, well, just WOW – a whole new world opened out for me and I loved every minute. I’ve a collection of short sories coming out – A Policy of Constant Improvement – in 2017, so I’ll be doing some promotional work for that. And I’m hoping to land some funding for a travel residency in Norway for the long light summer …

Can I just take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s supported me and Stella in so many ways throughout the year; you are too many to name individually, but if you see this post, know that you made a real difference!

And thank you Victoria for inviting me onto your blog! I always love working with you!

Review of 2016: Chris Ord

Regular readers of this blog will recognise Chris Ord, author of the phenomenal novel ‘Becoming‘ which has stunned readers worldwide.

It was such a joy to attend Chris’s book launch last month and I’m really proud to have been involved in ‘Becoming‘. Thanks to Chris for sharing his 2016 with us! 

Vic x

Becoming

Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
On September 23rd I published my first novel ‘Becoming’. I’d always wanted to write a book, and after years of reviews and changes at work I was offered the option to take redundancy. I saw the opportunity to do what I’d always wanted and went for it. Some close family members had passed away and it made me realise you have to grab chances when they come.

It was daunting sitting down on day one, but I saw the opportunity to write as a privilege. I create my own worlds every day, and there was something exciting about sitting in front of a blank screen and facing endless opportunities. I hear many writers speak of the tyranny of the blank page, but I prefer to think of its possibilities.

The day of publication was magical. I was fizzing with the excitement of achievement, the realisation of a life’s ambition. There were mixed emotions though. There was the pride and satisfaction, but the apprehension too. Once the book was out I knew I was revealing my creation to others – friends, relatives, and strangers. I was exposing a bit of my soul. It was the time for judgement and thick skin. I tried to keep a sense of perspective. I loved writing ‘Becoming’ and if others love it too that is a bonus. I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, one that engages and entertains, but also challenges and provokes. If I achieve any combination of these I’ll be happy. I’m delighted to say the feedback and reviews have been excellent so far. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Interest in the book is growing and after only two months it has a bit of momentum already.

The most rewarding thing has been how many people respect my courage in taking the risk and going for it. I hope that what I’ve done has inspired others to do the same. I’m a great believer in finding what you love and doing it. We see those memes on social media all the time about seizing the day and making your dreams happen. Maybe we see them too often now and they’ve lost their impact. The message is still true though. Just remind yourself and have the bravery and belief to go for it.

becoming

How about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
On a personal level I’ve had a dream year with many highlights. However, I’m a musician and music will always be my first love. Therefore, my favourite moments are the musical ones.

I play the horn in my home village band, Jayess Newbiggin. This year the band were crowned both Durham League and Regional Champions and represented the North East at the National Finals in Cheltenham in September. Those achievements were all something to be very proud of, however, my favourite moment was playing at Sage 1 in Gateshead in support of Mnozil Brass, the world’s leading brass ensemble. Working with the BAIT project at Woodhorn museum we performed a new commission called ‘Reflection Connections.’ It was written by world-renowned brass composer Lucy Pankhurst and involved all the South East Northumberland brass bands – Ashington, Bedlington, Ellington, and Jayess Newbiggin. Our first performance was alongside Mnozil Brass at the Northumberland Miner’s Picnic in June, and we followed this with a second performance at the Sage the next evening. It’s been a personal ambition to play Sage One and it was a joy to give life to Lucy’s magnificent music alongside my fellow band musicians in Northumberland. Life is about making memories, and this was one of the special ones.

sage-performance

Favourite book in 2016?
M Train’ by Patti Smith. I read a lot of biographies and music is my first love hence I tend to gravitate towards the memoirs of musicians. Patti Smith is one of rock’s great lyricists and poets, only surpassed by Dylan and Cohen in my view. Her lyrical and poetic style feeds into her gorgeous, seductive prose. She’s led a fascinating life and captivates with her anecdotes and observations. I love seeing how my heroes developed, what motivates them, their flaws. Unlike many memoirs Smith doesn’t sanitise her life, her truth, honesty, and punk spirit shine through. She opens her soul and draws you into her world. Her music is powerful, but words are her true gift. I’ve seen her perform a few times, and was fortunate to see her at Sage 2 a few years ago on the tour to promote the first memoir ‘Just Kids.’ It’s one of my favourite books, and she was mesmerising, mixing readings and discussion with old songs, giving one of the most charismatic and engaging performances I’ve seen. I recommend both her memoirs, but start with ‘Just Kids.’ As for her albums ‘Horses,’ it’s one of the greatest debut albums of all.

Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake.’ If you haven’t seen this film, please do. It’s a deeply moving, and unsettling film which asks a simple question – is this the kind of society we want to live in? Art is a mirror that reflects life. Sometimes we don’t like what we see, and what we have become. Perhaps it’s easier to turn away and pretend we don’t see. I left the cinema feeling anger and shame. We can be better than this. We have to be.

I struggled to think of anything else for days. There was anger and shame, but also guilt. I didn’t create the brutality of the modern welfare system, but nor have I done enough to make myself aware of it, try to change it. Politics is too often putting the cross on the paper then either gloating or ranting on social media depending on the outcome. Politics should be about people. The people we elect, the people they serve, the people we live alongside in communities. People. Not just you and me, but all of us. Those seen and unseen. We’re all someone’s son or daughter.

The truth is I don’t do enough, but I will change. I want to. The most rewarding things I’ve done in my life have not been for financial gain. I’ve come to learn the simple act of giving is the most rewarding of all. It doesn’t have to be money, often it’s better to give time, or share a skill you may be lucky to have. I don’t know what I will do yet, but the new year beckons with new opportunities.

I, Daniel Blake’ is the best of films. It re-energised the anger of my youth. I know that I don’t want to be a part of the society I saw. Nor do I want to sit back and wait for politicians to make the change. They have a responsibility, but so do I.

What was your big adventure in 2016?
The family went to Iceland for two weeks in the Easter holidays. It’s a magical place, quirky and odd, but full of mystery and beauty. It reminds you of nature’s wonder and its danger. The people are dynamic, friendly and very creative.  It is a place to feel inspired. One in ten of the population have published a book. There is street art everywhere. Reykjavik is one of the most intimate capital cities I’ve been to. It feels alive and owned by the people. They engage in city life and the atmosphere is unique.

It’s a country being born in every sense. Parts are like the moon. It has glaciers and snow-capped volcanoes, and the earth breathing fire and steam. There are waterfalls with rainbows, and beaches of black sand. We swam in lagoons in meadows, sat by frozen crystal lakes, and drank from mountain streams. We watched the night sky dance with rivers of green. We experienced some unforgettable things, and learnt about an ancient seafaring culture that many of us in the North are descended from. It was something that is very important to share as a family, one of those unforgettable holidays. I will return someday, I’m sure of that.

iceland

Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
The death of David Bowie. It’s hard to put into words how much Bowie means to me. Like so many I was devastated when he died. It was a shock, but it was also perfect Bowie, so beautifully orchestrated. Even in death he was a star. They named a constellation after him. How perfect. Billy Bragg has a theory that Bowie held the Universe together, and everything is collapsing since his death. The world has changed, the stars look different.

It was moving to see the tributes, how much he touched people’s lives. Whether you loved his music or not something you love was influenced and shaped by Bowie. I hear and see it in so much of popular music. He changed everything. He was a true creative visionary and though the term genius is often over-used, of the few that deserve the title Bowie is one.

How do you deal with that kind of loss, of someone you have never met, but has played such a huge part in your life? Someone who has made you laugh and cry, shaped who you are. I did meet David Bowie once. We were in an arena with a few thousand others, but he sang to me, only me, I’m sure of that. We all are. If life is a gift then so is death. It teaches us that life is precious, it shakes us from the mediocre and the mundane, it reminds us to live. It also helps us reflect on the life of the person we have lost, the special ones even more.

The truth is I never knew David Bowie the man, what touched me all those years was the music, the wonderful, magical music. It was the characters and personas, the many different faces. I cried a lot when he died, but I got through it. I found a new beginning, an absolute beginning. Now I celebrate everything I love about Bowie, all that he has given me. When most of us die we will crumble to star-dust, only the love will remain. People like Bowie leave so much more. They touch our soul, help us find who we are. That is why the artists, the poets, the musicians are the special ones. Everyone dies, but heroes live forever.

Are you making any resolutions for 2017?
I love this time of year not just for the festivities, but because I get to write lots of lists. I’m a big fan of making lists, I even write lists about what to make lists about. I also like reflecting, embracing change, and moving forward. My mantra is the Dylan line ‘He not busy being born is busy dying.’ New year is a perfect opportunity to do this and I try to make the most of it every year. So in terms of my resolutions for 2017, my current list is:

  1. Publish another novel
  2. Finish the follow-up to ‘Becoming.’
  3. Win the Brass Band Area Championship and qualify for the National Finals again
  4. Secure a top five finish in the Brass Band National Finals
  5. Go to at least 20 gigs
  6. Run more
  7. Worry less

The list will change, but that’s a good thing.

reflection-connection-picnic

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Less death, more life. More positivity and engagement. 2016 has been a year of anger and dismay, but we can get through all this if we try. The world seems to be shifting on the anger of vocal minorities. Meanwhile, there is a growing, silent majority, the passive, disillusioned, and the young. I hope to see more people engage and make the world they want to live in. Especially young people, the future is theirs.